Thursday, July 26, 2012
JER'S TURN: DAVID LYNCH- THE DIRECTOR & THE ARTIST OF FILM
JER: The feeling of déjà- vu hovers over my laptop…haven’t we been here before? The subject of writer/ director David Lynch has been an on- going topic between JOHNNY CHAZZ and me since we first met and began talking about the directors we enjoyed the bodies of work from the most. So, I guess it is slightly embarrassing to admit that Mr. Lynch never came up as a subject to discuss here on CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT before. Let me clear that up just a bit more…his films and his life has been discussed to a certain degree in previous postings but a full blog page topic line has never been dedicated to him solely. I will give that credit to Reader Janelle for bringing up her ‘obsessed’ following with several of his films and the need to read and discuss more of his film history and a slight visit into his biography as well.
If you are an avid fan or a first timer into the realm of David Lynch it comes with a warning: once you have journeyed into his cinematic “rabbit hole”… you will never be the same. Lynch’s unique and controversial methods have been the topic of numerous discussions since he made his feature- length debut with the cult classic ERASERHEAD back in 1977. Some would go as far as to call him a genius… others would just call him insane. Jurors, I leave it to your interpretation, after all, that is what Lynch has always asked of his audiences in the first place.
NOTE: (Please visit our previous posting dated 2/13/2012 entitled “A
OF BEING”, which further discusses techniques that offer a ‘dream- like’ ambience to its storytelling). HYPNOTIC STATE
BIO: David Keith Lynch was born in
in 1946, a town very similar to the little ‘heartland” locations that many of his films take place in. He expressed a love for art at a very early age and signed up for many classes before enrolling into Missoula, Montana Boston’s School of the just after high school. In the art of expressing himself through his works, he quickly picked up the media of film. Museum of Art
After ‘experimenting’ with a few shorts, Lynch’s first full- length film took almost five years to finish and was finally completed and released in 1977 as ERASERHEAD. Right from the very beginning, many studio executives didn’t know how to receive or market this very strange film until a distributor by the name of Ben Barenholtz took a chance and helped launch the film to its current cult status.
It wouldn’t be too much longer before Lynch entered into mainstream filmmaking when he released 1980’s THE ELEPHANT MAN. David Lynch received two Academy Award nominations: Best Director and Best Screenplay. The film was a success on both a critical and commercial aspect and this secured a position to continue directing and writing a number of films. He found a way to work on both mainstream films as well as independent projects with the same flare and artistic curiosity that has kept audiences guessing to this very date.
This only marked the tip of the iceberg for what Lynch had in mind. After the commercial and critical success of THE ELEPHANT MAN, famed producer Dino De Laurentiis (BARBARELLA, RED DRAGON) sought Lynch out to direct his most ambitious project to date: filming Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel, DUNE. Plagued with too many studio decisions and on- set egos, Lynch was very dissatisfied with the experience of the 1984 film that subsequently bombed in the box office. An extended ‘special edition’ was released on both television and DVD, to which Lynch requested his name be taken off the director’s credit. The name of “Alan Smitee” appears in its place, the name commonly used as a “John Doe” amongst directors who have no claim on their films. It was back to the drawing board for his next project.
A Tribute to David Lynch's 1984 release DUNE
Redemption came in the form of 1986’s BLUE VELVET.
Middle America’s suburban town is literally ‘turned on its ear’ when an underlying of darkness and depravity takes over. Things are not as they would seem under the microscope. The film would receive only one Academy Award nomination: Best Director- David Lynch. The film also marked the first collaboration with Music Composer Angelo Badalamenti who composed the eerie and haunting themes throughout the film. Lynch would develop a wonderful relationship with the composer throughout the years including a wonderful and intriguing music video piece featuring some original compositions by Badalamenti and featuring vocalist Juliee Cruise on 1990’s INDUSTRIAL SYMPHONY #1: THE DREAM OF THE BROKENHEARTED.
1990 was a banner year for Lynch has his media outreach made its way to both cinema and television. WILD AT HEART would reunite Lynch with his BLUE VELVET actress Laura Dern and match her with the equally unique acting of Nicolas Cage. Cage went through an odd Elvis phase in his life and brought that into a number of his films including HONEYMOON IN VEGAS and SNAKE EYES. Lynch gave him his iconic snake- skinned jacket and allowed him to snarl on the screen with much enthusiasm. The same year also launched the highly anticipated television series
which was produced by Lynch. A variety of other credits were held during production including director and writer of a few episodes and he even made an appearance as an actor in the reoccurring role of FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole. Lynch centered a teenage girl’s murder on a sleepy logging town tucked away amidst a scenic backdrop of trees and mountains. The series only lasted two seasons ending in 1991. TWIN PEAKS
Lynch would keep himself busy for the next eight years with various projects including his continued work for television and even directing and writing a feature length film released in 1992 entitled TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME, considered to be the prequel to the events that led to the death of its main character, Laura Palmer. Many of the short- lived television series returned in their original roles for the film. Music was provided by Angelo Badalamenti (who also wrote the series’ music) as well as an appearance by Juliee Cruise as the Roadhouse singer… both of whom were mentioned in Lynch’s INDUSTRIAL SYMPHONY #1 feature- length video.
Captivating video of Juliee Cruise's theme from TWIN PEAKS
THE STRAIGHT STORY could be taken in a literal sense when it was released in 1999. Richard Farnsworth walked away with the only Academy Award nomination for the film as its lead character, Alvin. Based on a true story, the film focuses on how a 73 year old man from
Laurens, Iowa rode on his lawn mower to in 1993 to mend his relationship with his ill 75 year old brother, Lyle. The film offered a rare glimpse at how Lynch was able to ‘slow down’ the process of telling a story without the use of overblown budgets or heavy special effects. Some would even dare interpret this film to be Lynch’s most ‘normal’ entry to date. Mt. Zion, Wis.
MULHOLLAND DRIVE would remain true to the unique and bizarre views of Lynch… style. A freak auto accident on the twisting roads of Hollywood- Mulholland Drive would leave a woman (Laura Harring) amnesic. Her destined run- in with an actress hopeful (Naomi Watts) would team together to piece the clues as to the woman’s identity. The original storyline and premise was derived from a television film Lynch directed and wrote back in 1999 of the same name.
Again, Lynch would take some time from feature films to work on television segments and video documentaries between 2001 and 2006 to finally release the last of his feature films to date: INLAND EMPIRE starring re- occurring actress Laura Dern. Lynch would, again, center this story around
and the film industry as Dern’s character is an actress preparing for the biggest role to date. As she begins to develop feelings for her co- star, she finds her real life mimicking that of the fictional life of the film she is making. It is only then that the film takes a turn for the surreal and the lines are blurred from that moment on. The third half of the film was shot on the opposing side of Hollywood Blvd. better known as the poorer side. Having walked down those very same streets personally, I can tell you that a certain residue permeates of urine and filth. It is far from the tourist attractions of the Walk of Fame, the Chinese Theater and the Pantages… yet; close enough to be a stone’s throw away. Hollywood
Not more can be mentioned of the latest works by Lynch. After 2006 on through to the present 2012 would have Lynch occupied with a number of videos and shorts. 2011 had Lynch work on a video documentary with legendary 80’s pop band Duran Duran entitled- DURAN DURAN UNSTAGED. Think of it as a concert film on hallucinogens. Leave it to Lynch to film the concert in a standard black and white and super- impose images over the images of Duran Duran’s lead singer Simon LeBon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, drummer Roger Taylor and bassist John Taylor. Everything from smoke, flames, sunbursts and even bizarre shrunken heads make their way onto the screen to obstruct the performance itself.
Duran Duran's "Careless Memories" from Lynch's UNSTAGED
LYNCH: THE DIRECTOR’S EYE: In this critic’s opinion, I believe that David Lynch is the modern day side- show barker. He entices and attracts a curious audience to his world of oddities…and we cannot help but look without tearing our vision away from it, much like driving slowly past an automobile accident. We are left to revel in bewilderment, possibly disgust but always with a sense of wonder. His films leave us guessing and maybe even left to our own devices… much like a believer is left pondering the meaning of life. Is it too cerebral for an average audience? Is the idea of “getting” his films mean “not getting it”? If so, then what is the point then?
The same can be said of an artist, though. The work of an Expressionist is to let the viewer derive their interpretation or perception of what they see. Much so are the films of Lynch as well… he offers no explanation in interviews nor does he leave a director’s audio commentary track on any of his films’ releases on DVD or Blu- Ray. After all, weren’t the origins of film created as yet another canvas for artists looking to go beyond paints and brushes? Lynch is, without argument, an artist who has decided to essentially use the camera as his molding clay or paintbrush or charcoals and allow the raw film to be displayed on its canvas: that being the screen. Like an exhibit, we pay to see the works of the artist by purchasing a ticket at the box office or renting or buying his films. We are poised and (somewhat) ready to be taken on the journey of the creator. Some are left satisfied and conversations arise… others look upon with discuss, confusion and questions.
Maybe we, the audience, had it wrong all this time. What if film was just meant to be another art form and we didn’t need the clarity of story and scripting? What if film didn’t have dialog? Could the artist still express what needed to be said in the same format as art without words? Did ‘experimental’ film makers like Andy Warhol, the latter films of
Kubrick or German and French Expressionists know what the concept was really meant to be used as? There is a lot to be asked with a lot to be answered… Stanley
JER’S TOP 3 LYNCH FILMS:
For the record, let me say how much I have and always will respect the works of David Lynch. He is bold and does not compromise his work for the general public. It was very difficult to center my attentions on only three, but I also wanted to keep the forum very open to my eagerly- awaiting “counterpoint” partner, JOHNNY CHAZZ. So, without further ado, here are my personal selections.
#3. THE ELEPHANT MAN: Mainstream, yes. Artistic, absolutely. The true story of the tragic and inspiring life of John Merrick couldn’t have been captured any better by any other director in 1980. Taking a bold step and presenting a mainstream film (released by Paramount Pictures) in black and white was a risk that paid off in its essence of presenting the grotesque disfigurations of Merrick as well as the interpretation of the seedy streets of the lower dredges of England.
The moving trailer for 1980's THE ELEPHANT MAN
Anthony Hopkins is highly underrated as Frederick Treves, the Victorian surgeon who rescues the young John Merrick (John Hurt) from the physical beatings and mistreatments as a side- show freak who suffers from a rare disfiguring congenital disease. The film represents the 19th century with excellent set design and cinematography. The film was bestowed 8 Academy Award nominations including the previous Best Picture and 2 nominations for Best Screenplay and Director for Lynch as well as one for John Hurt for Best Actor. Nominated for Best Original
Score, John Morris adds the final somber touch with saddening themes for Merrick and the menacing moments of
Merrick’s inhabitance of the side- show.
***Here is where it gets to be a little unsure. The safe “go- to” title should be BLUE VELVET… and why not? Widely considered to be the most popular film directed by David Lynch, it was also the most successful in all markets. However, it isn’t about making a ‘safe’ decision within my “top 3 films” … it is more about the overall presentation and how I felt about it long after seeing it. Thus, BLUE VELVET is an excellent film and deserves all of the accolades it continues to receive…but, let’s just say that other films deserve equal time in the spotlight and I want to shine it upon them.
#2. DUNE: I know that many people were extremely harsh and turned off by this film…not only because of the hard- to- follow style that Lynch presented the film in, but the story and characters didn’t work for a general audience back in 1984. DUNE is heavy science- fiction with multiple storylines and various characters belonging to various families to keep track of. I must admit that I am a big fan of and the owner of the special extended edition (Alan Smitee) and not the original ‘David Lynch’- direction version. I feel that the stories and events are fleshed out better because the additional material lends in the development. Lynch’s version was probably the victim of executives’ cutting away the general works and pared it down to a senseless telling.
#1. MULHOLLAND DRIVE: Admittedly, my main attraction to this film has always been because of the fact that it takes place in and around Hollywood, CA. Obviously, there is way more going on in this film than its location to grab my attention. The two different story lines occurring here dabble in the innocence and the corrupted. Life seems to play a difference between both sides and the film gives us that devil/ angel opposition.
Hollywood rests in Los Angeles or “City of ”, yet, it is also recognized as a city of corruption, crime and violence. Both sides arise in the course of the film with do- gooders and haters doing their best (or worst). Angels
JOHNNY CHAZZ: I must admit that Lynch has been one of my favorite and most relished film directors over the past 20 + years since my initial viewing of a private screening of "Blue Velvet" on the USC campus in 1988. Thus, it is so inspiring and motivating that we have the opportunity to discuss Lynch and his films this week.
One common theme that we see in Lynch films is that of the "dream-state" surrounded by abstract art, if you will. So many people walk around life in the "conscious" realm whereas Lynch comments on how the subconscious and the conscious state... affect one another on a cyclical basis. One look at Lynch's "Lost Highway" or even "Mulholland Drive" would affirm that point.
What is KEY this week on our blog is to remember that when we discuss an artist and a director such as Lynch, we must keep in mind that everyone is seeing a "different" image and storyline on the screen - similar to taking a group of people to the museum of modern art. Everything on the screen is an expression of the mind and an abstract piece of film that is thrown at audiences in fragments (a theme to be discussed later).
Dreams and life are synonymous in the world of Lynch in the sense that they can go from a thing of beauty to terror in a moment's time. "Eraserhead" might be one example, but "Lost Highway" and "Mulholland Drive" probably offer primer examples of that phenomenon.
As for plot - that is basically irrelevant in the world of Lynch - heck, look at the recent film "Inland Empire" by Lynch - tremendous to watch, but the plot is a violently weaved and disturbing conundrum. It is the "experience" itself that matters and the mood (lighting, color, and sound) that surrounds it which makes Lynch's films so original, and often disturbing with the same token. I often wondered if the "Lady in the Radiator" (Eraserhead) was an homage to the films of Hiroshi Teshigahara in the 1960's - specifically "Woman in the Dunes". His films are also quite intriguing including "Face of Another" (1966) and "Pitfall" (1962).
Jer listed "The Elephant Man" and "Dune" in his Top 3 this week - so I will go ahead and comment on those films as well as list my Top 5 and eventually my Top 3 as it gets narrowed down.
"The Elephant Man" as Jer mentioned certainly was quite impacting for the time period and Jer makes a strong selection - at least in terms of the caliber of film we are dealing with here. Still, is it one of Lynch's Top 3? Hard to say - and art remains subjective does it not? Still, the film was a stray from Lynch's typical dream-state motif and was so much more dramatic in terms of plot and straight narrative ("The Straight Story" falls in that realm as well). I cannot list "The Elephant Man" in my Top 3 however as it is not a film that really defines Lynch as a director, nor does it reflect who he is and the true message he is sending to audiences. Nonetheless, "The Elephant Man" was outstanding in itself and must be remembered on that level.
"Dune" is perhaps the least entertaining film in Lynch's repertoire. I choose not to spend much time discussing what I feel was, without a doubt his most dull and meaningless film he ever directed. Not only do I not place it on the bottom of Lynch's entire film-work, but I am not sure it could even be classified as a rating level 5 in respect to most films out there. We might recall that Roger Ebert declared it to be the "Worst movie of the year!" So, just when you think Lynch is flawless, take a look at "Dune" - just miserable. Moving along…
Here are Johnny Chazz's Top 5 Lynch Films from #5 to #1:
#5. "WILD AT HEART": This is simply a stunning piece of work with cinematography and set design that was second to none. The flamboyance of the film weaved in with the colors and the eroticism made for a perfect scenario to play off of. Laura Dern and Nicolas Cage were extremely well cast here and Diane Ladd is utterly convincing. The film still has that "dream-like" and nightmarish quality while still maintaining a focus on plot and narrative. The writing and sound are strong fixtures in the film and it should be remembered as one of Lynch's most unique films re-defining his image in Hollywood in 1990.
#4. "ERASERHEAD": Lynch's debut feature film is a fantastic piece of criticism, surrealism as well as insightful and astute. Henry is the main character whose life has been turned upside down and "The Lady in the Radiator" who is a source of solace for Henry (an angelic character who also has nightmarish qualities - but also exists as an inner conscience to Henry and the decisions he has made as to the child's welfare) and the "Man from the Planet Beyond" are staple characters in defining Henry's existence.
"The Lady in the Radiator" from ERASERHEAD
The death of the baby scene may very well be seen as a commentary on the cruelty and gruesome idea of abortion - maintaining a dreamlike and hallucinatory quality. From the opening shot, the terror of the film is real - and audiences are in for a frightening and disturbing ride. How could the film not be made in black and white? What a touch and another quality of Lynch's early masterpiece adding to the horror and alienating facet of the film. Henry's psyche and the desolate sets / scenery are also areas where the "black and white" motif fit just right. The film is extremely complex and was filmed primarily at night on an extremely low budget.
Lynch has quoted that "No one has come close to interpreting the meaning of "Eraserhead". Still, the film will continue to be studied and broken down by critics and film students alike for years to come.
#3. "BLUE VELVET": We see in "Blue Velvet" the idea of the "underlying" of what appears to be a perfect town - a nightmarish theme that would also show itself in "Twin Peaks" (as mentioned by Jer) and later in "Mulholland Drive". This was a brilliant comeback film for Lynch after the "Dune" disaster. Sex and violence along with corruption and murder appear once again - but this time in a type of parody within the apparent "perfect town”.
The haunting trailer for BLUE VELVET
The scenes become tenser as main character Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) becomes submerged in the world of Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini) as he forms a romantic and almost disturbing sexual relationship. However, on the flip side, his relationship with Sandy (Laura Dern) is sex-less and lacks any real passion which is almost a turn of the screw (no pun intended). Frank Booth's character is magnificently played by Dennis Hopper and only adds to the tension and bizarre mystery of the film which is really about the altered reality (just look at the duality of the opening scene of the film) and the surrealism that lies beneath the surface. Jeffrey is living in a world that collides with another - and the film as well as Jeffrey switches styles from a 50's superficial melodrama to a "voyeuristic" and disturbing piece of work.
The film is certainly a test of audience endurance with a style that is not plot driven - but rather an emotional roller coaster ride with plenty of eye-candy.
#2. "INLAND EMPIRE": Lynch's most recent work was absolutely phenomenal once again as 2007’s "Inland Empire" brings back Laura Dern as the main character with Jeremy Irons and Justin Theroux. The plot is similar to "Mulholland Drive" because it is about a woman, an actress yet again - in deep trouble. Dern (Karolina Gruszka) is terrific and was actually deserving of possibly a Best Actress nod for her performance in the film - especially the final act.
The original trailer for Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE
As Lynch mentioned, the script for the film is a composite of ideas that is then broken into fragments. Lynch simply came up with these fragments of ideas and then shot the scenes accordingly until the film began to unfold and mesh into a work of art. Lynch's love for the country of Poland also surfaces, adding the dimensionality of the film and curving the narrative of the film. “Inland Empire” is presented into three parts and also play as "Acts" - with Act 1 being a dream-like state (similar to what we see for the majority of "Mulholland Drive"; Act 2 is a nightmare in a sense and Act 3 is focused on performance and script that is second to none.
One might say that some and perhaps all of the characters in the film never really existed and only live in Laura Dern's "mind". There are countless scenes where Dern is walking through dark hallways and corridors only to encounter another aspect of the dream-state and altered reality (the "rabbits" scene is a prime example).
All I can say is to watch the film, let it soak - absorb everything you can and then take a break....then, re-visit it about three (3) times until the picture is clearer. Oh, and it may not be - but you will be better off- no doubt. It is a fine film with a performance given by Dern that is simply off the charts.
#1. "MULHOLLAND DRIVE": This film, along with "Inland Empire", are certainly deserving of top honors and are the epitome of what defines Lynch and how good he really is and can be. The film is a mystery with a deep dark secret hidden inside a box opened by a blue key. The scenes inside of "Winky's" are nightmarish in quality - yet maintain the dream-like state with the hazy and bright lighting coming in through from the windows. The scene at "Club Silencio" is magnificent in every way with a performance cover tune of Roy Orbison's "Crying" that is utterly convincing even though we are brainwashed that everything is an illusion.
Naomi Watts (specifically the audition scene), Laura Harring and Justin Theoroux offer outstanding performances throughout the film and the appearance of Ann Miller and Robert Forster are wonderful treats for the audience. The film is really about the making of a film - thus, we, as an audience, are also diving into the blue box and we too hold the key. Some critics might claim that “Mulholland Drive” is difficult to watch since the emotions expend the story or narrative - yet that is precisely the point and the idea conveyed by Lynch through the canvas of film.
Drive down MULHOLLAND DRIVE...if you dare!
Jer discusses the idea of "Hollywood" being highlighted and promoted in this film - and that is just another character that defines the theme of the film allowing the audience to experience the way Lynch views the movie industry and the surroundings.
The film "Mulholland Drive" is an abstraction - there is really no easy understanding as Lynch only wants to focus on "the experience" where audiences are being asked to use their intuition to gain a greater understanding. In a sense, describing and analyzing a Lynch film is similar to telling someone about a dream you had last night. The receiver does not understand the real impact and meaning of the dream, but YOU did - and you will never forget the strongest of dreams for as long as you live. That is what makes Lynch and his films so, so effective in the world of art and cinema.
JER: Points taken and greatly received. As much as I admire the works and I “get” the angle that Lynch comes from, I have always felt like I ride shotgun to JOHNNY CHAZZ’ take and understanding of what Lynch’s concept has always been about. This is why we have gotten along all of these years. I feel we both continually educate each other with our individual concepts and perceptions and we either communicate or beat each other over the heads with the view points we want the other to understand!
Well, being that JC got two more films on his “top” list than I did- I can only mention that both BLUE VELVET and WILD AT HEART would have rounded off my total five. There isn’t more I can add that JC didn’t cover other than this was a well- versed topic that needed to be discussed in detail.
We sincerely hope you enjoyed this week’s topic as we turn the keyboard over to you. What are your thoughts on the works of David Lynch: genius or just a lucky loony? What are your favorite Lynch films and why? Why not? The conversation goes beyond the page and we await your comments and all will be replied on.
Please check back with us on Wednesday August 8th, 2012 as we reveal a new topic by JOHNNY CHAZZ. Until then, thanks for always stopping by and for your continued support!
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